Friday, March 1, 2019

The Month That Was - February 2019

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – February 2019
March 1, 2019

There is always in February some one day, at least,
when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer.”
                                                                                                Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932)
                                                                                                British horticulturist

Despite the harmonious influence of Valentine’s Day, hate filled the days of February, as they have for the two years of Mr. Trump’s Presidency. “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate will eventually destroy the hater,” wrote George Washington Carver, a thought we should all consider. President Trump is the focus of hate among smug elites whose sense of superior self-righteousness governs their behavior. Mr. Trump embodies all that coastal elites love to hate: He is white and male. He is not politically correct. He is coarse. His accent does not conform to an ivy league education. His words come out jumbled, even when using a teleprompter. In speech, he is in sharp contrast to the mellifluous tones of his predecessor. His orange hair, blue suits and red “power” ties compare poorly to the easy casualness of Mr. Obama. Not trained in politics nor encumbered with graciousness, Mr. Trump says what’s on his mind. He does not hide behind a veil of diplomacy or hew to pre-programmed messaging. All this is in contrast to politicians who say what is expected and who live in a world where style supersedes substance.

It was a month that offered clear distinctions for what voters might expect in November 2020. Mr. Trump is portrayed as being of the far-right, whereas his policies have been centrist: the economy is doing well, no wars have broken out overseas and his poll numbers have risen, though modestly. On the other side, Democrats have moved sharply to the left, with even former centrists like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, following, pied-piper like, the siren call of socialism expressed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with her Green New Deal, and by Bernie Sanders, with his call for free public college and Medicare for all. And both, for their demagoguery of everything Trump. One is reminded of C.S. Lewis, whose posthumously published book God in the Dock: Essays on Theology included the lines: “Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Think of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao.


It is C.S. Lewis’ quote that leads me to believe that the most significant news in the month was not the silly Green New Deal; it was not the passing of the budget and the avoidance of another government shut-down, nor the subsequent exercise of emergency powers to fund a barricade along the U.S.-Mexico border; it was not progress on the China-U.S. trade deal, nor the sit-down in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. It was not the withdrawal by the U.S. from the Nuclear Missile Treaty that Russia had already violated; nor was it the childish, ill-tempered behavior of the EU’s leadership towards Britain’s democratically-determined decision to leave the EU. It was not rising tensions in Kashmir. No. The most important news item of the month was the revelation that a small cabal of unelected senior law enforcement officials in Washington plotted to take the law into their own hands, to plan the removal of a duly elected President of the United States – a traitorous and unprecedented action.

Disclosure of the meetings came when Andrew McCabe, former (and fired) Deputy Director of the FBI appeared on 60 Minutes to talk up his new book. He spoke of gatherings in May 2017, following the firing of FBI Director James Comey, where he and a few others considered using the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump. They decided the President was impaired and thus unable to perform his duties, so subject to the 25th Amendment. According to Mr. McCabe, discussions were held “in the context of thinking of how many other Cabinet officials might support such an effort.” Current FBI Director Rod Rosenstein offered to “wear a wire” when meeting with Mr. Trump. Keep in mind, Mr. Trump had not fallen ill. He was the same man who had been democratically elected six months earlier. The meetings reflected an outrageous violation of the democratic processes that have governed this nation for over two hundred years. We settle our political differences through elections, not coups.

McCabe claimed to have informed House and Senate leadership as to what he had done. That has not been confirmed. But if he did and they did nothing, they are equally complicit. Mr. Trump is not incapacitated; though he is reviled by some. He is frank, abrupt, crude and often inchoate in speech. It is not form that concerns him, but results. His politics differ from the landed bureaucracy in Washington whose personal advancements depend on an ever-expanding federal government. He had promised, during his 2016 campaign, to “drain the Swamp,” and, of course, all these people are denizens of that quagmire. The reaction by mainstream media has been disheartening, as they have abetted what seems to me to have been the traitorous action of Mr. McCabe and those who plotted with him. Media and political elites persist in their story that Mr. Trump is an illegitimate President. That Mr. Trump may be the victim of a disillusioned faction would contradict the narrative the Left has promoted and exploited since Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Ironically, if you recall, it was the progressive base of the Democrat Party, in the summer and fall of 2016, who warned that Mr. Trump and his supporters would not accept the election’s outcome. Now, it is those supercilious elites who have not accepted the election’s results. This should concern all who believe in freedom, the rule of law, mutual respect and civility.


The month ended with President Trump meeting with North Korea’s Supreme Leader in Hanoi. There are those who expected the meeting to be reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s meeting with North Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho in Paris in 1973. Nobel Peace Awards were offered to both men, but the Peace Accords spelled doom for the South Vietnamese, as two years later they were overrun. This situation is different. Technically we are still at war with North Korea, but the “hot” war ended sixty-six years ago. Nevertheless, there is a concern as to which country would dominate should unification take place. We should not abandon our allies in Seoul, as we did those in Saigon forty-four years ago, nor should we forget our Japanese allies. After all, Tokyo is only 800 miles from Pyongyang. Perhaps President Reagan’s 1986 meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik is the better analogy, as Mr. Reagan walked out of that meeting, only to see the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. Time will tell.

Britain’s difficulty in disentangling itself from the EU highlights the problems in Europe. It is more than European Council president arrogantly saying there was a “special place in Hell” for the UK’s leading Euro-skeptics. In their understandable desire to avoid the devastation of the first half of the 20th Century, Europeans have opted to pursue federalism, at the expense of national interests, customs and traditions, and at a cost of a loss in electoral representation. In atonement for past sins, Germans opened borders irresponsibly. In pursuing equality and providing a generous welfare state, bureaucrats in Brussels have loosened monetary policy, increased debt as a percent of GDP among those countries within the European Monetary Union, left themselves militarily defenseless, and, with increased regulations, abandoned a path toward faster economic growth. As noble as might be their intentions, they have swapped optimism for pessimism – democratic capitalism for social welfare. There has been a disinclination at universities to welcome opposing ideas. (In Berlin last week, I found it impossible to get a copy of the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, while the New York Times was readily available.) There has been a breakdown in the Judeo-Christian ethic, favoring a universal sense of moral relativism. Birthrates are below replacement levels, meaning populations are aging and will be shrinking. Using data from the ECB (European Central Bank), annual GDP growth in the EU was 0.6% between 2009 and 2016, about a third that of the U.S. They blame Mr. Trump for playing tough regarding NATO, yet they face an aroused Russia, an increase in Islamic terrorism and a strengthening (and dangerous) China, while spending less than two percent of GDP on defense. It is, as Walter Russell Mead wrote during the month in the Wall Street Journal, “decline, not the Donald, [that] is haunting Europe today.” Will Theresa May call for a second Brexit vote? Will she be forced to resign? Will Brexit be delayed? We do not know, but neither the Brits nor their European counterparts have served their people, or the cause of liberalism, well.

The Trump Administration altered its plans to pull all troops out of Syria and will leave four hundred. As I wrote last month, the decision to pull troops from Syria does not mean an abandonment of the Middle East. The U.S. will still have about 50,000 troops in a dozen Middle Eastern countries. Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected President of Nigeria, while more than fifty people were killed in incidents related to the election. After three and a half months, popularity for protests in France has begun to wane. The situation in Venezuela, on the other hand, has become worse. Nicolás Maduro clings to power through support from his three amigos: Vladimir Putin, Daniel Ortega and Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba. Tensions between two nuclear powers – India and Pakistan – intensified. A Pakistani suicide bomber in Kashmir killed forty Indian para-military police officers. India took revenge, with military jets striking militant targets in Pakistan – the first attack by India on Pakistani territory in fifty years. Pakistan, the next day, shot down two Indian military jets that had invaded their air space. The U.S. and the Taliban continued their talks in Afghanistan.


When all the world can see what Socialism has done to the Venezuelan people it is hard to believe that the Democrat Party in the U.S. has tacked so definitively in that direction, but they have. Consider the ten or so candidates that have declared for the Democrat nomination, with all but Amy Klobuchar moving leftward. Seventy-seven-year-old Bernie Sanders has been advised to move even further left. Will he recommend a $20 minimum age, assuring rising unemployment for teenagers? Will he recommend a UK-style national health service, guaranteeing that the very wealthy will get their care in other countries? In his inaugural, John Kennedy spoke to the nation’s youth: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Today’s Democrats are offering the reverse. Politicians offer no plan as to how to pay for the goods and services they promise, other than to say the rich will be taxed more heavily. It is estimated that Medicare for all would increase the federal budget by over 70%, or three trillion dollars a year. There are not enough rich people, and such policies would assure there would be fewer in the future. Voters are treated like irresponsible children. They are assumed to be economically illiterate, mathematically innumerate and incapable of caring for themselves. Their campaigns imply a disdain for the electorate that is mystifying to anyone raised on the rigors of self-reliance and respect for the nobility of work. The Green New Deal is frightening to anyone who honors individual liberty, as it ensures government will control all aspects of our lives. One of its authors, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez goes so far as to say that climate change (which has been a factor in the world for at least four and a half billion years) is a reason people should have no more children. Is that the sort of ignorant pessimism we want in our leaders?

With tax season coming, the Left has become vocal in their dislike for the section of the tax bill that limits the deductibility of SALT (State and Local Taxes) to $10,000. Democrats in high-taxed states like California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut claim to represent the poor, the afflicted and the disadvantaged, but their call to remove the cap on SALT deductions exposes their pretense, as such write-offs benefit the wealthy and allow states to spend more. New York’s budget, on a per-person basis, is twice that of Florida. Would you say New York is twice as well run as Florida? A government shut-down was avoided, but at the cost of declaring a national emergency for wall funding – an action designed to keep lawyers employed. The hypocrisy is, of course, that all major Democrats have supported tough immigration laws, including barriers, to stop the swell of illegal immigration, drugs and human trafficking – that is, they had done so until it became a promise of Mr. Trump’s to his constituents. The House voted to nullify the President’s emergency declaration (another act of hypocrisy), but not by enough votes to override a veto. Keep in mind, since the National Emergency Act was passed in 1976 fifty-nine emergencies have been declared. President Obama declared twelve during his eight years. This is President Trump’s third.

Mr. Trump began the month with a State of the Union that took Democrats by surprise, as anyone watching could see, as Nancy Pelosi flitted through her copy, trying to grasp all he was saying. His use of props – guests in the audience – and respectful, but disarming, comments to the ladies in white was masterful. His emphasis on the freedom of individuals in America to succeed was optimistic and traditional, especially when his competition, in promoting socialist ideas, is pessimistic by definition, as it implies that people need the benevolent hand of government to just get by.


Bank mergers were in the news. In the U.S., the proposed deal between BB&T and SunTrustBanks would create the sixth-largest bank in the country. In Germany, the question is will two troubled banks – Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank – yield one good one? It is a concept put forward by government, not markets; thus offering, in my opinion, a less-than-rosy outcome. Amazon cancelled their plans for a second headquarters in Queens, as left-leaning politicians complained about tax incentives offered the company, the likelihood of a rise in apartment rentals and crowded streets and subways. Fourth quarter preliminary GDP numbers were reported at plus 2.6%, slightly better than expected. After declining 64% over the past year, the price of Bitcoin rose 10.4%. The DJIA was up 3.7% for the month – an unsustainable gain – while the yield on the Ten-year held essentially flat.  The curve between the Two-year and the Ten-year widened by three basis points. Treasury markets, and investors in general, appear to be ignoring mounting federal debt, which rose above $22 trillion during the month.


In other news internationally, Ukraine comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is leading in the polls to unseat President Petro Poroshenko in the March 31 election. Should he succeed, will his humor help him with Mr. Putin? Prince Phillip, after his most recent accident, surrendered his license. Gibraltar, a British overseas territory since 1713, was referred to as a colony by the EU, causing an uproar in London. Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán was convicted on ten counts in a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn and sentenced to life in prison. A Black Panther, the first one seen in a hundred years, was caught on camera in Kenya. The magnetic north pole is shifting east at a rate of 30 miles per year, having accelerated in the past forty years, causing some navigation problems. Octopus was removed from the menu at Somerville College at Oxford, as it is “off-putting to disadvantaged students.” Students at Somerville also voted to ban kosher meats, because the animals are not stunned before being killed, but the College said kosher meats will continue to be available. A land-bridge that once connected Tintagel Castle in Cornwall (birthplace of King Arthur) to the mainland is being re-built. It vanished sometime between the 14th and 17th Centuries. A new book refutes fears raised initially by the Club of Rome in the 1970s, and still believed by many, that a population explosion is imminent. Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, in Empty Planet argue, instead, that the planet faces a global population collapse. Consequences: aging societies, slower economic growth, rising inequality and calamitous government debt. If one looks at recent declines in total fertility rates (TFRs), one is inclined to believe them.


Here at home, we were witness to a manifestation of the delusional fantasy that permeates Leftist governments and which is contrary to the natural law of economic determinants: California’s Governor Gavin Newsome axed the high-speed rail plan, which has already consumed billions of dollars, as being economically unfeasible, just as Representative Anastasia Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) were introducing the Green New Deal, which calls for – among other economically challenging concepts – high-speed rails. President Trump signed a directive to create another branch of the military – a space force. Kelly Knight Craft, currently U.S. Ambassador to Canada was nominated to be the United States’ U.N. Ambassador. Democrats in Virginia got hoisted on a petard of their own making. Governor Ralph Northan, who as the Democrat gubernatorial candidate called out his Republican opponent as a racist, was found to have dressed in black-face while in medical school. His Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, a black man, was accused of sexual misconduct. Third-in-line Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to having dressed in black face. Fourth-in-line is Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox, a Republican. What are the odds that all three Democrats will resign? Zero. What are the odds that any one of them will resign? Zero. Moral outrage on the Left lasts only as long as is politically useful. Elizabeth Warren apologized to the Cherokee Nation, saying she was not a person of color and nor a member of a tribe. She did not, however, credit Mr. Trump for setting the record straight. Newly elected Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was rebuked by her own Party for anti-Semitic comments, but she stands by her patron CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), a group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and which is characterized as a terrorist organization by the UAE. An Amtrak train, traveling between Seattle and L.A. and carrying 183 passengers, was stranded in Oakridge, Oregon for thirty-six hours because of heavy snow.

Jussie Smollett, a self-centered, prejudiced, disrespectful, gay, black, actor on the TV show “Empire,” and a man who hates Donald Trump, told police he was attacked by two white men wearing red MAGA hats who called him a f***t and a n****r. He said they put a noose around his neck and threw bleach at him.  It turns out the event was staged. It was a hoax. Mr. Smollett had hired two Nigerian brothers to carry out the attack. Mainstream media fell for his story, because they wanted it to be true. Chicago’s black police chief was disgusted with Mr. Smollett for wasting his time and the city’s money. A shooting in Aurora, Illinois by a recently fired employee killed five and wounded seven. Bernie Sanders raised $5.9 million on the day he announced his candidacy, proving once again that fools and their money are easily parted. R&B singer Robert Kelly was charged with three counts of sexual offense, involving teen-age girls. A reporter for CNN, which loves to mock the President for his speech, said about trade talks with China: “We won’t know for certain until we know for certain.” I guess he’s right. The Patriots won the Super Bowl, beating the Rams 13-3. The Padres paid Manny Machado $300 million for ten years, “a can of Red Bull, with a shot of adrenaline,” as Bob Nightengale wrote in USA Today. A gust of wind on Mt. Washington was recorded at 171 mph, pretty high but below the record set in 1934 – 231 mph. Michael Cohen’s testimony in a public hearing to Congress does not merit comment, other than to observe that it was deliberately timed to distract from Mr. Trump’s meeting in Hanoi and that it was a hearing (‘circus’ is a better word) where Democrats, with visions of impeachment dancing in their heads, were seen salivating over lurid details told by a liar – a man none would invite into their homes. And, oh yes, the Academy Awards were held, but who cares?


Death appeared. Albert Finney, who rose to fame as the title character in the 1963 film “Tom Jones,” died at 82. Frank Robinson, a racial pioneer as the first black manager and the only player to win Most Valuable Award Player in both leagues, died at 83. Bob Friend, a mainstay of the Pirates’ pitching staff, died at 88. Also dying at 88 was Jeffrey Hart, teacher and founder of the conservative student paper, The Dartmouth Review. Composer and conductor André Previn died at 89. John Dingell Junior, the longest serving Congressman in the nation’s history – 59 years – died at 92. He had succeeded his father in Michigan’s 12th District, John Dingell Senior who was first elected in 1933. Debbie Dingell, wife of John Dingell Junior now represents the same district. All told, they have served in Congress for 86 years, more than a third the life of our nation! George Mendonsa who was memorialized in an August 14, 1945 photo kissing Greta Zimmer in New York’s Time Square, died at 95.


We should not take lightly the attempt on the part of a small number of senior law officials to overthrow the government. Democracy is messy and results are often not what we, individually, prefer. “All good things are difficult to achieve, and bad things are easy to get,” as Confucius allegedly said. Imperfect as it may be, no form of government yet devised has given so much to so many as has democracy. Our founders were students of classical history and the enlightenment. While they recognized the necessity of government, they were wary of all-powerful, central governments. The Constitution they adopted was designed to withstand challenges, particularly from within. There are those on the Left who want to see the country do away with some of these safety features, like the Electoral College and go to direct elections for President. But they should be careful what they wish for. Like the U.S. Senate, the Electoral College was designed to give weight to less populated regions of the country, but it was also designed to help prevent the rise of demagogic populists.  Direct election of the President would give enormous weight to ten states that comprise half the population of the U.S. and make more possible the rise of a popular authoritarian, supported by mass media.

Enjoy March, the month of lions and lambs!

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